The headline comes from a much quoted advertising poster which advertised day trips by rain to the seaside town of Bangor which is 12 miles east from Belfast. …on the southern shore of Belfast Lough. Well it was much quoted by my father when our little family set out on the train to Bangor maybe twice or three times a year. Of course by (say) 1962, the return fare wasa lot more than a “bob” (one shilling).
So in a sense this blog is about the nostalgia of Bangor in 1962, seen thru the eyes of a ten year old and looking at Belfast in 2012, thru the eyes of a man of almost sixty.
In 1962, the transport system was not integrated. Bangor was served by a commuter train link which started on the southern quay in Belfast. The first excitement was merely “crossing the bridge” over the River Lagan and seeing the docks where three ships were docked…actually the “old” ferries which crossed to England (Liverpool and Heysham) nightly and docked every morning. The River Lagan divides Belfast into West and East ……and as the city centre lies to the west, it was never necessary to cross the river into East Belfast. As a ten year old there was nothing in Belfast beyond that small railway station, south (or east) of the river. It was only much later that I realised that there was a vast area called East Belfast, which was almost exclusively Protestant and unionist which was practically another country.
The train to Bangor always looked “small” but its novelty value was that it had modern diesel engine and automatic doors (unlike the steam trains and old fashioned carriages which operated on the “GNR” lines from Great Victoria Street to points south like Lisburn and beyond. The great thrill was to get a window seat which looked down on the estuary of Belfast Lough, which got bigger and wider as we reached the sea. Occasionally we might see a cargo ship out there….or some pleasure craft. But the small railway stations were all familiar, Sydenham, Holywood, Helens Bay and so on into Bangor.
The Bangor railway station was on top of a hill. And as we got off the train we seemed to join a long line of families all heading down that hill (Main Street) to the beach. “Beach” seems an optimistic way to describe a small patch of sand which disappeared as the tide came in. A walk of about a mile south of Bangor would bring us to a better beach (Ballyholme).
Thats how day trips to the seaside were supposed to be. Bracing sea air, digging sandcastles on the beach, a quick paddle in the sea (nobody in our family can swim). As it got a little colder we would walk back into Bangor and out the other side towards Pickie Pool an open air “swimming pool”. …past the small open air evangelical “church”. The order from my Catholic mother was not to glance in their direction……..we might get corrupted in some way.
Belfast was of course a “Protestant” town but realy at ten years old, we didnt really understand the significance of that….or how it would be even more significant within ten years.
Back in the 1960s there were no “burger” bars, no “Chinese” takeaways and no pizza outlets. Merely chip shops….cafés and smaller tea rooms. And after we had something to eat, it was time to call into the Catholic Church. My parents had a thing about always visiting a Church when we went to a strange town. There was a very nice toy shop in main Street which always seemed to be closed as we went by.
And then it was back on the train and a window seat to look over Belfast Lough again. In the dusk, a cargo ship might be lit up. And as we got off the train in Belfast, the very last excitement in the darkness was the lit up ships which were just about to set up for Heysham and Liverpool.
Within half an hour …we had walked home to the Falls Road.
“home sweet home……..and the fire dead out”